By Joseph Ax
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A New York appeals court on Tuesday slashed the bail for the so-called "Soccer Mom Madam" to $250,000 from $2 million, calling the original amount "unreasonable" and raising her chances for getting out of jail after more than three months behind bars.
Anna Gristina, whom prosecutors have accused of running a high-priced brothel out of a Manhattan apartment, faces one felony count of promoting prostitution.
New York tabloids have given her several nicknames, including "Upper East Side Madam" for the alleged location of the brothel, as well as "Soccer Mom Madam" and "Hockey Mom Madam" for her lifestyle as a married mother shuttling her four school-aged kids to everything from band practices to sports games.
Prosecutors had said she represented an extreme flight risk, claiming that wiretaps had caught her admitting she fled to Canada years ago when she thought she was the target of a criminal investigation.
But her lawyer, Norman Pattis, told a five-judge panel at the Appellate Division, First Department, last week that Gristina's clean criminal record and offer to wear a monitoring device called for a lower bail.
"We find that the amount of bail set by the trial court was unreasonable and an abuse of discretion, and that, taking into account the risk of petitioner's flight, bail in the reduced amount indicated is sufficient to ensure petitioner's attendance," the judges wrote Tuesday in an unsigned unanimous opinion.
The appeals court noted that despite the "notoriety" of the case, Gristina faces only a single nonviolent charge and is a longtime resident of New York with four children.
As part of the reduced bail package, Gristina will have to wear a monitoring bracelet at her expense. Her lawyer, Norman Pattis, said Tuesday she is "destitute" but said she has appealed to family members to pool money for both the bond and for the costs of the monitoring.
"We're one step closer to home," Pattis said. "I'll be far happier when Ms. Gristina is reunited with her husband and children."
A spokeswoman for the Manhattan District Attorney's office declined to comment on the ruling.
Gristina has been held in Rikers Island jail since her arrest on February 22. Previous attempts to convince the trial court judge, Juan Merchan, to lower her bail had met with failure.
Prosecutors, who charged Gristina and an alleged co-conspirator, Jaynie Mae Baker, after a five-year investigation, say Gristina made millions of dollars by providing prostitutes to well-heeled Manhattan clients. Both have pleaded not guilty.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; editing by Dan Burns and Cynthia Osterman)